By: Laisha Harris
In Harris County, 8,571 people are incarcerated – 7,560 of those awaiting trial. That means 1,011 in the Harris County jail have been convicted or found guilty of a crime. The rest are either waiting for trial or unable to afford a bond. So, what exactly is this issue regarding bail or bonds?
When someone is arrested or accused of a crime, the court will assign a bail amount as a guarantee of that persons return to court. A bondsman will take percentage of the bail amount and provide a bond so the accused may get out of jail. It is a common misconception that bond is solely associated with the type of offense that is committed or is supposed to be a form of punishment. However, the O’Donnell v. Harris County lawsuit caused Houston to re-evaluate their bail and bond practices.
New laws in Texas say that an indigent (poor) arrestee that is accused of a misdemeanor must have a bail hearing within 48 hours. Any indigent person who is not provided an individualized hearing within 48 hours must be released. County judges did not find a link between a person’s financial situation and their ability to appear at trial or engage in law-abiding behavior. Depending on the offense, they may have to receive a GPS monitor or a device that monitors alcohol consumption and no financial obligation at all. That is the case with misdemeanors, like assault or driving while intoxicated.
What about aggravated robbery, aggravated assault, rape, or murder? The courts are assigning bond amounts as permitted by the law. The focus needs to shift towards the local bond companies. Houston bond companies collect as low as 2% or up to 10% with a payment plan. That means with a $100,000 bond, they’ll take as low as $2,000, high as $10,000. The outcome is two-fold.
On one hand, people who are wrongfully accused or have a job or family to maintain can resume their life in the “outside world” while the charges get sorted out. A lot of people are arrested for misunderstandings within the family or abuse of power by police. Sometimes, it takes a little legal sorting out before the offense can be resolved or dismissed. If you’re stuck in jail unable to afford a bond on a situation that is not a crime in Texas, you can lose your job, you can lose participation in school or even lose custody of your child.
On the other hand, if someone genuinely committed a felony assault, robbery or trafficking, there is a possibility that person may be able to afford to join the “outside world” while pending trial. Last year, 65% of felony offenders were able to post bond. This year, Houston families were outraged when 21-year-old Devan Jordan was released on bond despite being accused of several murders.
It is important to remember that even after you have been arrested, you are innocent until proven guilty. Bail is not meant to serve as punishment towards the person arrested. The courts and judges ought not be responsible for violent offenders being able to be released on a bail they were able to afford. The local bond companies are contributing to the re-exposure of violent offenders in the community. They are also providing lower-level offenders the opportunity to not have their lives completely disrupted by an arrest.
The issue of bail and bond is an issue that impacts the community that involves and requires the community’s attention. Harris County Bail Bond Board meets the 2nd Wednesday of each month at 1:30p.m. All agenda items must be submitted in writing to the Sheriff’s Department Bonding Division secretary no less than (10) days before the meeting.